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Robert Reich
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Wednesday 3 August 2011
Obama says he wants to extend tax cuts for middle class families and make sure the jobless get unemployment benefits, but the new deal won’t let him.

The Hostage Crisis Continues: Why Obama Can't Pivot to Jobs and Growth

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With the hostage crisis behind him, the President is now ready to talk about the nation’s real problem.

Nine paragraphs into his remarks today announcing the nation has paid most of the ransom the radical right demanded as a condition for maintaining the full faith and credit of the United States (he didn’t use these exact words), the President pivoted to the agenda he should have been talking about all along:

“And in the coming months I’ll continue also to fight for what the American people care most about: new jobs, higher wages, and faster economic growth.”

But what precisely will he fight for now that the debt deal has tied his hands?

He says he wants to extend tax cuts for middle class families and make sure the jobless get unemployment benefits.

Fine, but the new deal won’t let him. He’ll have to go back to Congress after the recess (five weeks from now) and round up enough votes to override the budget caps that now restrict spending. What are the odds? Maybe a little higher than zero.

He says he wants an “infrastructure bank” that would borrow money from private capital markets to pay private contractors to rebuild our nations roads, bridges, airports, and everything else that’s falling apart.

Fine, but the new deal he just signed may not let him do this either – if the infrastructure bank relies on federal funds or even federal loan guarantees to attract private money. The only way he could create an infrastructure bank without sweetening the pot would be by privatizing all the new infrastructure. That means toll roads and toll bridges, user-fee airports, and entry fees everywhere else.

Apart from its potential unfairness to lower-income people, such a privatized infrastructure would have the same effect as a tax increase. After paying more for roads and bridges and all other infrastructure, Americans would have less cash for to spend on goods and services. That means no boost to the economy.

The President also wants to complete trade deals and reform the patent process. These may make the economy slightly more efficient, but they’re not going to have any perceptible positive impact on the lives of the 26 million Americans who are now either looking for work, working in part-time jobs but needing full-time ones, or have given up looking.

More importantly, the deal he just signed makes it impossible for the President and Democrats to launch any major jobs program – no WPA or Civilian Conservation Corps, no major lending program to cash-starved states and locales, no new help for distressed homeowners, and so on. Nada.

“We’ve got to do everything in our power to grow this economy and put America back to work,” the President says, now that the hostage crisis is over.

But the sad truth is he and the nation remain hostage to the ideology of right-wing Republicans who won’t let the government spend more money. Yet if the government can’t spend more – at least this year and next, until the pump is primed and the economy is growing again – we won’t see job growth. And without job growth, the economy will remain anemic.

That’s why even the stock market is reacting badly to the end of the hostage crisis.

If you hadn’t noticed, the number of people unemployed or underemployed keeps growing. (We’ll know Friday how many it added in July, but remember it needs to add 125,000 a month just to keep up with the growth of the labor force. Anything below 125,000 means we continue to slide backward.)

The reason: Consumers, who are 70 percent of the economy, haven’t been able to pick up the slack. That’s because they’re still deep in debt. Their homes have plummeted in value. They can’t borrow. Their jobs are on the line and their wages are dropping.

So where will the demand come from if not government? The radical right points to the alleged “failure” of the stimulus program as evidence that government spending doesn’t work. The fact is it did work – it saved at least 3 million jobs, and would have saved far more if the stimulus was on the scale needed and directed to job creation.

To be sure, pump-priming is more difficult when the well is almost dry, as it is now. And widening inequality – the rich taking home an increasing share of the nation’s total income and wealth – has left the vast middle class with even less purchasing power.

But the pump still needs to be primed.

And the well has to be filled: The nation must also push for real tax reform that reverses the surge toward inequality – raising taxes on the wealthy, cutting them for the middle, and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for the poor.

To do this, though, requires that Americans understand the truth. But where will they learn it?

The radical right has not only captured the federal budget. In convincing so many Americans the problem is the size of government rather than their shrinking paychecks and growing economic insecurity, the radical right has also captured the American mind.

This article was originally posted on Robert Reich's blog.

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ABOUT Robert Reich


ROBERT B. REICH, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at Robert Reich's new film, "Inequality for All" is available on DVD
and blu-ray, and on Netflix in February.

I love reading him. He

I love reading him. He usually puts my thoughts to paper in in very sensible ways!

The pump isn't primed until

The pump isn't primed until we see a national public works program which should be aimed at improving the countries infrastructure. This is short term and the long term aim should be improving business incentives here in America. FDR faced similar problems with the right in 1933 which slowed his agenda.

Thank you Jim Potter, you

Thank you Jim Potter, you nailed it.

Richard Heinberg can tell you

Richard Heinberg can tell you what (most) economists do not understand or will not say about why what is happening IS happening, and why it's going to get MUCH WORSE.

Because you don't live on planet Politics or planet Economics; you live on planet Earth. The economy is about stuff and about energy. Get the bigger picture.

Obama has been NEUTERED. He's

Obama has been NEUTERED. He's a cow-cow trained pony now.

The "flash-crash" laid the terms. The fascist/corporates made a call...put a shot across the bow.
Ever since, this "Nancy" has folded at EVERY turn.
FDR had the $$$ to tell the royalists to go to hades.
Truman called them what they were: LAZY PLUTOCRATS that Never have the national interests in mind.
JFK was a waffler that finally confronted the internal enemies, and they killed him.
LBJ compromised until they squashed his means.
Even NIXON tried to confront the fascist aristocracy, and they made him go away, too.

I think Obama was always a

I think Obama was always a corporatist. But it doesn't really matter; it's what he does that counts, and he's obviously on the wrong path.

Obama said he would not tolerate inaction on the energy crisis/climate change. That was in June 2010. And...?

It's official: the world's

It's official: the world's oil production has peaked and will soon be falling. Oil imports will become more costly. The US economy is totally dependent on oil. Returning the economy to growth will mean higher energy prices, and that means recession. It happened in 2008; it would happen in 2011, 2012 and every year going forward. The economy is beginning to contract, and the super-rich are using Congress and the President, who they own, to seize everything they can while there is still time, and barely even trying to hide that wealth grab.

Without energy, nothing happens, there is no economy to squabble over; it's physics, and physics doesn't care about your politics or your morality.

You can ignore it, and carry on arguing about left and right, or you can face reality. Will anyone here face reality? What will you do, Robert? No, no answer? I'm shocked.

President Obama has a clear

President Obama has a clear pattern. He says exactly the OPPOSITE of what he means and what he actually does. Once you've understood that pattern of deceipt you will understand where he is going, and it is not to help the majority of American people! President Obama is a corporatist Republican who by deceptive design, publicly claims membership to the Democratic Party. He plays the role of a weak victim against the big bad bullies because that is what will keep him in the good graces of his loyal fans who don't bother looking beyond his polished public performance. He solicits sympathy from them, they readily offer it, and become his staunchest defenders. If it wasn't the big bad bully Republicans who were "making" him follow the Republican agenda, it was the big bad Blue Dog Democrats who forced him to follow the Republican agenda--and all along claim he was "negotiating"!
Americans need to wake up! This country has been completely taken over by the Corporate Cartel who have fully bought for and paid for our three branches of government. It's not the Democrats vs the Republicans, it's We, The People vs the Corporate Cartel!

Unfortunately "true"! It

Unfortunately "true"! It seems We, The People have been duped/defeated once again. How splendidly wise were the Corporate Cartel Rats to hire a buffoon in the form of a supposedly egalitarian black man such as Obama to hoodwink the populace. Brilliant strategy to say the least. America is no longer and never will be the "beacon on the hill". Oil may be in depletion, but American mores have been more so ever since the death of JFK. A straight line to the bottom. The physical death of Myer Lansky never ended the "gangsterism" he established which has brought America to its knees and soon will be totally on its back as it is ravaged by his successors both in and out of government.

Give me a break.. wake up,

Give me a break.. wake up, this is not about how the tea party is holding anybody hostage, but how weak and inapt the democratic party is.

This democratic party of today is not the party of your fathers
1.when the democrats had all the control in both houses and the presidency, they couldn't get anything done because of that strong republican minortiy.
2. when they lost the "house" they now can't get anything done because theylost the majoritys.
Funny how the repubicans can get a lot done no matter if they have a small minority or a large minority... give me a break.

Stop blaming a party who has the guts to stand for their coonvictions as verus one taht follows a president who has no convictions and a party that has no spine.

Maybe, becasue the democrats as a whole are simply telling their constituents what they like to hear, while serving their masters at wall street and corp america... stop listening and follow their vote...fior war, for patriot act, for tax evasion for corp and the wealthy... the list is endless and radically conservative. So we are to beleive that they have our best intersts at heart but just can't find the guts to stand up for those interests.. give me a break.

Until you wake up the slide to the right will amount of "hoping for change we can beleive in" is going to do it. Look at the facts/data.. this downhill run has ben goiing on sense reagan sold his snake oil to the public on the cure all for all our ills... small to no government.... Its still being sold and peddled by both parties.. the data is there.. Union busting, stagnant wages while the fruits of higher production go solely to the corp caffers, with scraps to the share holdrs, who in theri lust for greed turn a blind eye to this self destruction as long as it is not their job shipped overseas.

We are fast getting exaclty what we have voted for.. "talk that sounds soul searching while action that would make the devil proud, runs amock.

this is not about the tea party and its convictionsk it is about your continuing to support a democratic party taht has sold you out.

Solution.. a new labor party.. i any democrats who have not sold out, who did not vote for any of the programs and funding noted above.. is there any??please step forward.

Stop falling pray to the "least of the two evils" mentality that keeps this train wreck going down the same track for the last 30 plus years.

We are witnessing a one way trip with no light at the end of the tunnel.. It is time to jump off the train and lay new track or we will arrive at where we are presently headed.

Glaud Kkuykendall, If you

Glaud Kkuykendall,
If you think there are any differences between two parties, you are wrong. They just fooling the public and playing "Bad Cup" and "Good Cup" games for the best interests of their corporate masters. The whole political system is rotted and stinks. If you think there are differences between a fascist like Bush Jr. and Barak Saddam Hussein Obama, think again, they both feeding from same flash and blood of Corporate America.

Glaud, your argument would be

Glaud, your argument would be a lot more credible if you could learn how to spell. You sound quasi-literate.

Iam quasi-literate.. i hope

Iam quasi-literate.. i hope you don't let that get in the way of understanding the thrust of my argument.. well not really argument, but opinion of what is going on... i do think that common sense can rule versus education alone.. we too often "kill the messenger" and thus dismiss the conversation.
I'll try dn do better.

The problem with

The problem with conservatives like Dick Johnson is that they have absolutely no heart. They would screw their neighbor if it meant keeping just a few pennies more in their greedy little hands. They say they want to shrink government - to what, the size of the Government of Botswana? This is the USA, the government is and has always been an integral part of American life. No, the real children here are the Teabaggers. They would destroy America's economy just to prove they're right. That's what children do, throw tantrums until they get what they want.

Obama is not a hostage of

Obama is not a hostage of Republicans; he is totally in line with them, actually I should say he is one of them whom play role of Republicans fifth column in the Democratic Establishment. No one in the US history as much damaged Progressive’s causes and stabbed Progressives in the back as Obama did. Although everybody internationally knows Obama is a total fraud, but still we Democrats are going to be stupid enough to nominate him for 2012 election. Democratic Leadership's stupidity in House, Senate and in national level sicken me much more than betray of national interests by Fascist Republicans.

MalleusMaleficarum's picture

Writing in The Times of

Writing in The Times of London, Anatole Kaletsky concludes that Obama won. The budget cuts of $2 trillion are over a 10 year period and only a small fraction kick-in by the end of next year. This leaves Obama with about $900 billion in additional credit, and he can veto the renewal of the Bush tax cuts next December (2012) generating even more revenues. While Obama has stood firm against raising the retirement age and preserving health care, he has forced the Tea Party Republicans to advocate both raising the retirement age and cutting Medicare/Medicaid - both are politically unpalatable positions. The American public now realizes that either the budgets for essential programs: defense, Social Security and Healthcare must be cut - or, taxes must be raised. Obama clearly wins on these issues against Romney or any other Republican advocating cutting SS, Medicare or defense instead of raising revenues.

This is height of

This is height of self-deception if we think Uncle Tom Obama is going to veto renewal of Bush tax cuts. At least Bush Jr. was honest about his ultra-right and fascistic agendas, but No Principal Obama is not. He talks like FDR but act worse than Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and double Bush, combined.

Dear Robert, Like always, you

Dear Robert,

Like always, you are right on! Unfortunately, the 'Teabaggers' HAVE captured the economy and way too many minds.

Here's a little parable for you.

In the eighties I was newly divorced with my three youngest daughters still in high school. I asked them to get a job to save up for college. A few months went buy and they said there weren't any jobs to be had, however, I suspected they were sitting in the park with friends, smoking pot after school.... not pounding the pavement. So that week I went out and bought a restaurant and handed them each a set a keys to the 'shop' and said work starts on Monday morning. I paid them $2.oo more than minimum wage, not bad for a 16 yr old. They did prep work before school and showed up for work after school.

Six months went by and my accountant and I were curious about the lack of profits. A talk with my intern graduates from the culinary institute who were working for me while the kids were in school, told me the girls were ignoring portion control and also were feeding their friends for free. OK....ouch!

So, I divided up ALL the business mgt responsibilities amongst them, and I went back to work at Aetna. The next quarter and forever after, they made a good profit. They learned good business ethics and knew just how hard it is to make a living in the real world. In the end, there was enough money, and they all graduated from college with professional degrees.

The morale to the story?

If I were the Prez, I'd opt out at the end of this term, before my hair got any grayer....I'd go back to the college campus where I could change minds and influence people. It would be justice for these teabaggers and their supporters to have to straighten out the mess that they have created so proudly. Let them figure out how THEY are going to get out of the well.

JMHO, and God Bless America.


Obama is not being held

Obama is not being held hostage, he is 100% in line with the status quo. Democrat, Republican, Green, Tea Party, Liberal if they are in Washington they are a crook. Yesterday I read that one F-22 stealth bomber costs 339 million. Just one... can you imagine if we were to buy 10 less per year. Right there, there would be 3.39 billion to spend on something else or can you imagine if we withdrew from just one of the three wars we are fighting how much money we would save. Nobody is talking about the real reason why our country is broke. I mean I don;t think it is an extreme leftist concept to say that I should not be paying more taxes than Bank of America. It is ridiculous what is going on. Raise the taxes on everyone who makes more than 50 million a year by 15% and get out of the Middle East. In one year the country will be at an economic surplus.

HADES, You are absolutely

You are absolutely correct, whoever is in American Politics, no matter from which party, is corrupt, entire political system is corrupt. Regretfully media, including Nation of Change, are only serving interests of very same corrupt political system. I never could understand why Nation of Change covering GOP primaries, rather than advocating boycotting Corporate America sponsored American corrupt election system, entirely. Our so called democracy by itself is a joke and insult to intelligence. Boycotting US elections is only remaining defensive measure left for voiceless 99% of America and wil severely undermine legitimacy of American corrupt political system. Unfortunately organizations like Nation of Change, knowingly or unknowingly, feeding very same corrupt system.

HADES is absolutely correct.

HADES is absolutely correct. The whole system is fraud.

Another irony is that many of

Another irony is that many of those who are so busy arranging for what they expect to be less government are engineering the very epitome of government, totalitarianism (or a tantamount oligarchy). They seek the freedom to enrich themselves without limit and without sharing but they will find themselves working for whatever the powers-that-be dictate.

Absolutely! There is no

Absolutely! There is no economic crisis for the wealthy, and they use government to keep it that way.

(From Ed): The country is

(From Ed): The country is doomed between the dependency created on government used to buy votes, and idiots who think borrowing more than $7 trillion more dollars of other people’s grandchildren’s money over the next ten years is considered tying anyone's hands. Seriously?
Liberals are immature children who are not responsible in their own lives and advocate philosophies that promote irresponsibilities in others - in the name of helping. Such children.

If we want immediate improvement in the economy and job growth - simple. Repeal Obamacare and watch everything start to take off.

Liberals, please stay in your reefer stupor and stop trying to use the higher parts of your brains which was burned out years ago.

If you really want

If you really want improvement in the economy and job growth - go back to the pre-Regan tax cuts. Everyone should pay their share, especially the wealthy and corporations. Take away tax breaks for corporations who are NOT creating jobs. After they do create all the jobs that they are [supposedly] creating, then we can think about giving them some more tax breaks. NO TAX BREAKS for corporations outsourcing their jobs overseas. Then we need to work on a single-payer health plan that will take care of all Americans, not just those who can afford ridiculously high insurance premiums to health care companies whose CEO's make hundreds of millions of dollars at the expense of the sick.

The root problem is the

The root problem is the legalized bribery of special interest funded election campaigns. See Professor Lessig's discussions at for how to fix it. When we have HONEST elections, we may be able to find some HONEST politicians. Then we might be able to put some restraints on the CEOs and Wall Street oligarchs to get some fairness into the private economy. Remember that we make the best guns and bombs in the world. Let's try to avoid using them on the oligarch villains. Just tax their unjust incomes and property.

Reich has posted a nearly

Reich has posted a nearly perfect critique. His analysis needs to be shared far and wide. Perfect would have added the sorry fact that this situation actually began around 1978, when the corporations and banks began investing overseas and closing the giant metalworking industry at the heart of our economy. A second hard fact is that Labor unions had become mostly benefits clubs and had lost the solidarity needed to stop the rust belt from happening. So here we are in 2011 still needing the solidarity of non-violent but firm resistance. Let's begin now.

Public service unions?

Public service unions? Really? Glad to see that Jime took time away from watching Fox news and listening to Glen Beck. Sadly, many of these right wing "terrorists" have brainwashed many of the people struggling the most with their claims of Christianity and family focused ideology.

I wonder why so many people

I wonder why so many people can vote and think against their own best interests? Perhaps it is racist - they're so blinded by their fear of this black President (who is a coward by the way) that they cannot see straight. This country is going down and you're helping it.

Hmmm. 8 Bush years, over 8

Hmmm. 8 Bush years, over 8 tax-rate welfare years for the wealthy -- oops, "job creators", and what do we have? Hmmm 8 million fewer jobs than when Bush was accidentally elected. A greater disparity of rich-to-poor income than in 1928, $ trillions of debt upon Bush heading for his ranch retirement. What's that about the new Republican Party's plan for our economy?

So "welfare for the wealthy", "subsidy for the rich", "what's good for the Koch's is good for the US" -- that's been working for America?

How about picking any Republican administration prior to Bush Jr. and using its tax rate? Sounds fair to me. Even Warren Buffett thinks: "We have class warfare and my class has won." Gotta love an honest man. So rare in the ranks of the rich. Non-existent among the 'new' Republicans.

And we wondered who'd take over harassing America after we zapped bin Laden.

Perhaps Mr. Reich can explain

Perhaps Mr. Reich can explain why, when the government spends money, the economy grows, but when the people spend their money instead of giving it to the government to spend, the economy does not grow. Of course, the government, through borrowing from the Federal Reserve, can create new money, which the people cannot do, but that just makes dollars worth less than they would have been. Moreover spending money on unproductive work does not make us better off, but rather makes us poorer, as it takes resources away from other uses that we need more. And, when governments spend money, they spend it on getting the spenders re-elected, not necessarily on what is most needed by the people.

I love it when all these

I love it when all these right wing people want less government which they think will empower the people. But what is it that they really want. Air like China? Increased food borne illnesses? More Crime? Third world Health Care? All these things and more will happen if we shrink the government. Where do they think all these medical breakthroughs came from. Private industry didn't develop many of the medicines and advances today, Government agencies like NIH did. Private industry lets our tax dollars develop the technology and then it is given to them to make money on it. This is all Moot anyway because the right wing just handed the country over to the top 1%. All the rest of us will work until we die while the 1% will play golf with those graphite and Titanium clubs that our tax dollars helped develop.

The "pump" was primed by $1

The "pump" was primed by $1 trillion over the past couple of years and did very little to rescue the economy. We don't have a "debt ceiling" problem, we have a deficit/debt problem that is about to overwhelm us. The "Radical Right"/"Tea Party Terrorists" are the only ones who seem to recognize this situation and are willing to try and do something about it. I applaud them for their perspective and perseverance. Most of the old timers couldn't or wouldn't step up to the problem.

Obama keeps moving the

Obama keeps moving the political conversation to the right and the Republicans stay fixed. The American people and the main stream media stay in the middle---but the middle keeps moving to the right! Stupid. Lesson: You can't steak out a middle position when dealing with thieves.

Robert, you know that

Robert, you know that boosting the economy will inevitably mean higher energy prices, which will mean recession, just as in 2008. Will you please address this issue?And have you considered the possibility that Obama knows that the economy is contracting, that he cannot prevent it, and that this informs his economic policies?

Tell us all Mike--how did

Tell us all Mike--how did Bush handle our money?

If that is the case, Mike,

If that is the case, Mike, then how come President Bush got a debt ceiling increase every time he asked for it with no fuss? You right wingers are too much for me. I used to be one, but it was so long ago, I guess I was a centrist compared to what you guys are now.

Thank you, Professor Reich,

Thank you, Professor Reich, for another succinct, accurate lesson that needs to be learned by all. But won't. What prevents the right from recognizing a sound argument based on historical facts? Or do they recognize it, and dismiss it. Is it a matter of educating these people in right reasoning or is it something else? If we could figure out what that something else is, we might be able to move them--or to move others to vote against them.

Wrong, you spendaholic dems

Wrong, you spendaholic dems and rinos will never get away from the trough

If you don't have something

If you don't have something useful to say besides snipes at the Dems I don't see your comment as very valid.

It wasn't "spendaholic" dems who drive us into this debt, in case you can't remember, it was a Repug who gave us 2 wars, tax breaks for the wealthy and blew the trillions that we had in the treasury before "W" came along with the worst presidency in the history of this country.


It was the SPENDAHOLIC Republican Bush war off budget expenditures that Put us in the RED , you GONAD ! ( Along with 1.6 TRILLION tax cuts to the EXTREMLY WEALTHY that wer no PAID FOR )

Stupid people should be BANNED from posting, and immediately put on an island that is a "faith island"...i.e. one that does not succumb to global warming, according to them.

The budgets of individuals

The budgets of individuals and households are quite unlike the economies of nations... so much so that it can be wise for governments to go into debt while it is usually unwise for consumers to do so... except, that is, for very large purchases (homes, cars, college educations, business loans and startup capital).

Think about that....

Governments can, after all, only make large purchases!

It is most productive (economically sound) when such issued debt, increased money supply, or other borrowing is done as a long term investment in the present and likely future needs of the society.

Such borrowing against the future (N.B. in today's dollars but to be repaid with the future's inflation-cheapened dollars) is only inherently dangerous and destructive when invested in wars (which are made of explosions of dollars--burning money!).

And how did Bush handle our

And how did Bush handle our money?

The pump was primed. Went

The pump was primed. Went mostly to public service unions. Didn't work. What next?

Jim - how do you figure the

Jim - how do you figure the pump priming went to public service unions? 900 billion went directly to Wall Street. ????

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